Here are our up-to-date guides of family films to watch, to keep the whole family entertained!
For when we venture back out to the cinema, the below film guides are written by Mike Davies especially with families and kids in mind. Everything from small scale films to great blockbusters for all the family PLUS trailers for upcoming films! Please note that not all 12A films are appropriate for younger children. Let’s Go With The Children offers a guide to what’s suitable for family viewing.
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With cinemas closed, many recent films are being released early to rent or buy as DVD, streaming and Video on Demand. Let’s Go With The Children will keep you up to date with what you can buy, access or download.
Written in 1883 by Carlo Collodi, you’ll be familiar with the tale. A lonely aged carpenter carves out a puppet he calls Pinocchio, which comes to life but, a petulant, disobedient kid, runs away from his dad, becomes part of a puppet show, encounters a talking cricket who acts as his conscience, falls in with a couple of swindlers, gets turned into donkey, is befriended by a fairy and ends up becoming a real boy. Oh, and of course, his nose grows when he lies.
Best known via the 1940 Disney animation, this new subtitled Italian telling is a much darker affair that (largely ditching the cricket) remains faithful to the grotesque and fantastical elements of the original story and is given a live action treatment with some effective special effects and makeup.
Roberto Benigni is the woodcutter Gepetto who, given an enchanted log, carves out the puppet in the hope of making his fortune travelling the world and is both amazed and delighted when (played by child actor Federico Ielapi with wood grain makeup) it comes to life, rushing out into the Tuscan streets announcing he’s got a son. Typically Benigni overdoes the sentimentality, but is fortunately absent for most of the film which follows Pinocchio on his misadventures as, first becoming part of the Fagin-like Mangiafuoco’s travelling puppet-show, in which his fellow puppets are also alive, but on strings, he learns about the world and being good. Ielapi is excellent but, as I say, this doesn’t steer away from the darker elements of the book and the sight of the puppet having his feet burned off by sitting too close to the fire or being strung up from a tree by the two robbers, Cat and Fox, and left to die is probably not recommended be younger viewers.
Indeed, while a children’s cautionary tale about the consequences of misbehaving, lying and not respecting your parents, the film is much more inclined to an adult audience, preferably one that will embrace such elements as characters with animal-features, such as a huge female snail servant who leaves a trail of slime behind her and a gorilla judge who declares that it’s always the innocent who end up in jai. That’s not the only element of socio-political satire carried over from the book, the Blue Fairy telling Pinocchio that “Those like you are born as puppets, live as puppets and die as puppets”. It ends of course with that magical transformation (Pinoccohio’s reborn in a stable, if you’re looking for symbolism) and the parent-child reunion, proving that he really is a chip off the old block after all. 125 mins In cinemas from Fri Aug 14
My Spy (12)
Following in the footsteps of fellow wrestler turned actor Dwayne Johnson, Dave Bautista continues to show he can mix action and deadpan comedy to hugely entertaining effect. Here he’s JJ, a former Special Forces soldier now with the CIA who, after his tough guy actions blew a mission and let a bad guy escape with one half of the means to build a nuclear weapon, is teamed with hero-worshipping tech support Bobbi (Kristen Schaal) and assigned the lowly surveillance job of watching the Chicago apartment belonging to Kate (Pariza Fitz-Henley), the widow of a dead arms dealer, murdered by his terrorist mastermind brother Marquez. Unfortunately, JJ’s cover is quickly blown by Kate’s precocious nine-year-old, Sophie (Chloe Coleman), who, capturing everything on her phone, threatens to expose them unless, friendless and bullied at school, he agrees to take her ice-skating. It doesn’t end there, proving easily able to outwit him, he’s then blackmailed into being her school show and tell buddy and even teaching her the tricks of the spy trade. And, of course, she’s soon setting him up as prospective romantic interest for mum, loner JJ learning once again how to relate to people and get in touch with his feelings. At which point, the nuclear plotline resurfaces when Marquez comes calling.
While ostensibly pitched at tweenies, a witty nod to Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark and the gunplay action clearly have an adult audience in mind too, the comedy appealing to both with some frequent laugh out loud moments as well as sly genre spoofs such as JJ teaching Sophie how to walk away from explosions in slow motion. Bautista and Coleman share brilliant chemistry and comic timing, succeeding in mining the kid and surrogate dad sentiment without drowning in schmaltz. A reteaming would be very welcome. 99 mins (In cinemas and Amazon Prime)
Artemis Fowl (PG)
Originally planned for a 2019 release, then postponed, this adaptation of Eoin Colfer’s first of his eight Artemis Fowl novels about the teenage Irish anti-hero now bypasses cinemas altogether to debut on Disney +. It doesn’t arrive trailing exactly enthusiastic reviews, but despite its many faults – among them some wooden acting, clunky dialogue and anonymous direction from Kenneth Branagh – it ends up being quite fun, at least for the target audience.
Of course, Colfer fans will doubtless complain that it’s got ahead of the series and, rather than the 12 year old criminal mastermind in the original first few books, young Artemis (a somewhat stiff Ferdia Shaw) is already the plucky hero he becomes later, but really that’s neither here nor there and the film does nod to that by having the elder art dealer Artemis (Colin Farrell) being accused of being an international thief whose been stealing precious artefacts from around the world and storing them in his remote clifftop sprawling mansion where he lives with his son and bodyguard Butler (Nonso Anozie) and, brought in for added protection (even if she vanishes from the plot for long stretches and doesn’t really seem to do much), Butler’s niece Juliet (Tamara Smart).
Well, yes and no. He has, but in order to protect the world from a dangerous magic. You see, he’s apparently the only human who knows of the existence of a subterranean fairy world populated by trolls, goblins, dwarfs and the like, from which he’s stolen something called the Aculos to prevent it from being used to by dark forces to destroy all humans and dominate fairydom.
He’s also been teaching young Artemis (initially coming across as a bratty whiz kid) all about leprechauns and the other fairy legends as if they were real which, when dad disappears (abducted by some mysterious hooded figure who wants the Aculos to do exactly what I mentioned above), he quickly learns it is when, after subduing rampant troll marauding through a wedding (all humans put into a time freeze in the process and then mind-wiped), young (well, 84 years is teenage in fairy years) LEPrecon operative Holly Short (a perky elfin Lara McDonnell), the daughter of the late supposed traitor Beechwood, a friend of Fowl Sr who helped purloin the Aculos, disobeys orders and winds up his captive.
This prompts the LEPrecon Commander Root (Judi Dench dressed in lime green, sporting elf ears and speaking like she has gravel in her throat) to time freeze Fowl Manor and send in the winged troops to rescue her, and find the Aculos in the process. However, having bonded, Artemis and Holly are now working together to find where dad’s hidden it and rescue him.
All of this is told in flashback by giant dirt eating dwarf digger Mulch (Josh Gad) who’s being interrogated by some sort of British secret service and who also plays a major role in the battle at the manor.
The obvious influences, chiefly Men in Black (Artemis dresses in black suit and wears shades), Harry Potter (Mulch as surrogate Hagrid) and Star Wars (Farrell’s captor akin to Palpatine), do it no favours by comparison, but despite some confusing transitions, it rattles along quickly enough to keep its target audience distracted and the visual effects are definitely impressive. Like the ill-fated The Golden Compass 2007 adaptation before it, it ends setting up the main characters for the next stage in the adventure. That never saw light of day, but, perhaps Disney’s new streaming platform may yet give Fowl a fair chance of magicking up a franchise after all. 93 mins (Disney +)
On Disney +
After two live action features, Mystery Inc. return their cartoon origins for this latest computer animated update of the long-running TV series about four ‘ghost’ hunters and their canine companion. It starts off with an origin backstory about how misfit scaredy-cat loner Norville aka Shaggy (Will Forte) and talking (well, lisping really) Great Dane Scooby-Doo (Frank Welker) become friends (following a beach chase after the pup steals a kebab meat roll) and, indeed, how Scoob gets named (after a pack of Scooby Snacks) before the pair encounter dreamboat Fred (Zac Efron), people person Daphne (Amanda Seyfried) and brainbox Velva (Gina Rodrigues) one Halloween, expose Mr Rigby’s fake ghost and Mystery Inc is born.
There’s some amusing ironic lines such as about never going into haunted houses again and a montage of adventures before, launched by a cameo from an animated Simon Cowell who won’t bankroll the team unless their weakest links are let go, the plot per se sets in. At which point the film does a DC Universe flip and turns into a Hanna-Barbera crossover, introducing other TV show characters starting with superhero Blue Falcon (Mark Whalberg), or rather his preening, not so brave son Brian, his robot sidekick Dynomutt (Ken Jeong) and Dee Dee Skyes (Kiersey Clemons) one of the Teen Angels from Captain Caveman (who, voiced by Tracy Morgan, himself turns up later).
It seems that, attacked by a bunch of munchkin killer bots in a bowling alley, Scooby is a crucial part of a scheme to recover three dog skulls and unleash Cerberus, the three-headed dog, the villain of the piece being none other than Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs) of Wacky Races fame all of which has to do with his long missing partner-in-crime, Muttley, as the action moves first to Mystery Island before coming to a climax in Athens.
Rattling along from one loosely connected scene to the next, Daphne, Velva and Fred taking something of a back seat until towards the end, it’s not entirely coherent and the different characters don’t really fit into each other’s universe. Even so, there’s a lot of fun to be had for younger vans while some knowing one-liners and references are thrown in for the grown-ups too. 94 mins (Amazon Prime, Apple TV, YouTube and Google Play)
Four Kids and It (PG)
Published in 1902, Edith Nesbit’s fantasy-adventure Five Children and It remains a popular family favourite and was most recently adapted for the screen in 2004 starring Freddie Highmore, Tara FitzGerald, Zoë Wanamaker, Kenneth Branagh ad Eddie Izzard. Now comes a sequel of sorts, adapted from Jacqueline Wilson’s 2012 updating the tale in Four Children and It, here restyled as Kids. The premise is pretty much the same. Two sets of kids, bookish Ros (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen) and her Nintendo-obssessed young brother Robbie (Billy Jenkins) and cute toddler Maudie (Ella-Mae Siame) and her belligerent would-be cool tweenie sister Smash (Ashley Aufderheide), are reluctantly taken on a seaside holiday by their respective separated father and mother, Brit David (Matthew Goode) and American Alice (Paula Patton). Horrified to learn the two are now dating, something they only announce after arriving separately, there’s inevitable friction. Especially between the two older girls, Ros hoping her mum and dad will get back together and stroppy Smash angry at her mother and desperate to live with her idealised but never there for her father.
When Smash runs off in a temper, the other three follow and find themselves on a hidden beach where they’re amazed (not seemingly not a great deal) to be confronted by the Psammead, the ancient squat and hairy floppy-eared sand fairy Ros has read about in the Nesbit book she was given at the start of the film. The story, it seems, was true. Caught by the kids, the Psammead, who collects ‘offerings’ (like Maudie’s shoe) from those who come to his territory and is voiced in chirpy Cockney geezer manner by Michael Caine, is now obliged to grant them one wish a day; the downside being it only lasts until sundown. As in the books, in granting the wish the Psammead holds its breath, swells in size and, since this is a kids’ film, then farts.
Since Smash has snatched his Nintento and stuck it up on the cliff, Robbie takes the first wish and goes scaling the rocks, only to get stuck when the sun goes down, prompting his sister to come to the rescue. Attention-seeking Smash has the second, and transports the others to London’s O2 Arena to see her perform as an international pop star, unfortunately leaving them stranded and having to get a train back to Penzance, much to their parents’ distress and annoyance, while Maudie wishes they could all fly, an ability that strikes Ros at an inopportune moment. In turn, her wish is to go back in time to meet the children in the original book and ask if it’s possible to get a wish that doesn’t run out, so she can reunite their parents with their respective estranged other halfs forever. Unfortunately, it’s this that, in a new addition to Wilson’s story, sees her cross paths with Lord Tristan (Russell Brand), the ancestor of the local foppish eccentric toff (also Tristan) and endangered creatures collector who lives in the clifftop mansion and which sets in motion his quest to capture the Psammead, one his descendent is determined to fulfil.
It’s no masterpiece, but it is all old-fashionedly rather sweet (Tristan actually gets his trousers set on fire and cools off in a water trough”) with the kids, who don’t start out as especially likeable, learning to think about others not just themselves, Goode and Patton making an amusing but endearing couple, Brand proving surprisingly relatively restrained and not insufferable (though parents may have to explain what he means by “ethnically insensitive erotica”) and Caine clearly having fun with a CGI creature that, in the final stretch, the film clearly takes on an ET quality as the kids try and keep him safe. Good fun. 110 mins (Sky Cinema)
Frozen II (U)
Set three years on, Elsa (Idina Menzel), still romantically unattached, now rules Arendell, snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) is now all permafrost and the hunky but still somewhat oafish Kristoff is trying to summon up courage to propose to the apparently insecure Anna (Kristen Bell). Not that you need reminding, but Elsa’s the one with the magic ice powers. However, why her? That’s the engine that drives the narrative, the film opening with a childhood flashback as their now late parents, King Agnarr (Alfred Molina) and Queen Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood), tell them a bedtime story about Ahtohalla, an enchanted forest to the north, ruled by the spirits of earth, air, fire and water and how, 34 years earlier, their grandfather sought to forge a pact with the indigenous Northuldra, building a dam to hold back the sacred river mentioned in mum’s lullaby, only for hostilities to inexplicably break out, leading the forest and its inhabitants to be imprisoned by a wall of mist, but not before the young Agnarr was rescued by a girl from the tribe.
Now, the grown Elsa is hearing a voice calling her, so she determines to set off, as the other vaguely memorable song puts it, Into The Unknown, accompanied, naturally by Anna, Olaf, Kristoff and Sven the reindeer. As such, it’s a sort of origin story, though the revelations are unlikely to come as much of a surprise to any alert six year old, while getting there and learning the truth of what happened, albeit featuring a cute flaming salamander and a water horse, is something of a plodding and slightly incohesive affair, punctuated by a running gag about Kristoff’s failed attempts to propose.
The first film’s theme of finding yourself gets a retread, this time in the context of growing up and transitions (indeed, Olaf sings When I Am Older and philosophises on impermanence and the core cast warble how Some Things Never Change) and characters find themselves in mortal peril in protecting others (it flirts with darkness but anything bad that happens ultimately unhappens), but it’s not until the final act that the thing really catches fire. The animation is, of course, first rate, especially the scenes underwater, the characters remain likeable and the mix of sentiment, action and humour is about right, but, while this is undeniably great family fun, the thaw is setting in. 103 mins (Disney +)
The latest outing from Pixar may not reach the emotional heights or inspired storytelling of the Toy Story series, but, even so, it’s still leagues above its rivals in the family animation stakes. It takes a familiar and well-tested coming-of-age scenario about chalk and cheese siblings learning to work together and understand each other as well as dealing with loss and hurt and gives it a fantasy setting in a world where magic once ruled but has fallen into disuse with the rise of technology such as lightbulbs and planes. Now unicorns scavenge in New Mushroomton’s dustbins and dragons are family pets.
Directed by Dan Scanlon the protagonists are elfin brothers Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland), an awkward, insecure teenager overshadowed by his extrovert stoner-like metal-head older brother Barley (Chris Pratt), a snarky role-playing fantasy gamer and history nut who believes the games are based on old realities and drives a battered van he’s dubbed Gwniver. Together, they live with their outgoing widowed mom, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who’s dating macho centaur cop Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez).
On Ian’s 16th birthday, mom presents him with something left by their late father (Scanlon lost his own father when he was one and has no memories of him), which turns out to be a wizard’s staff, a gem and instructions on how to bring dad back to life for a day. Naturally, Barley assumes he has the necessary magic powers, but it turns out that they actually run in Ian’s DNA. Unfortunately, he’s not quite up to the task and the spell falls apart midway, leaving dad as just a pair of legs, prompting the brothers to set off on a quest to find a second gemstone to complete the spell and finally meet and say goodbye to their father before the sun sets.
So, dressing the trousers up Weekend at Bernie’s style with a puffy jacket floppy torso and sunglasses, the pair hit the road (Ian wants to take the shortest route, Barley the path of peril) as the film unfolds into an episodic quest adventure, Bronco and mom in pursuit, that variously involves a run in with a biker gang of tiny flightless pixies, the Manticore (Octavia Spencer), the fabled lion-scorpion-bat warrior whose titular tavern is now a cheesy themed fast food joint that contains the map to the gem’s location (she and mom teaming up as a formidable double act to get to the boys before they unwittingly unleash the curse) and a somewhat rushed climax that pits everyone against a giant rock dragon made up of the town’s demolished school. There’s some delightful moments en route, including a dance scene between brothers and dad’s legs and disguise cloak that only works if the wearer tells the truth (making for an awkward brotherly moment), as Ian learns to become more confident and eventually realise the strength of his relationship with Barley who’s essentially tried to be the dad he never had. It’s not Up, but it’s definitely facing the right direction. 102 mins (In cinemas and Disney +)
Sonic The Hedgehog (PG)
Surprisingly not the disaster that was anticipated, especially given it had to go back to the drawing board and redesign the look of its titular Sega character after fans were up in arms, this is the latest video game to become a live action feature film, and, mercifully, much better than the abject failure that was Super Mario Bros.
After a cursory back story explaining who this furry blue alien speedball is and why he’s on earth, director Jeff Fowler gets on with the film’s two narratives, the mismatched buddy one as the lonely Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwarz) accidentally causes a major power outage across the entire Pacific Northwest that sees him teaming up with Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), the sheriff in small town of Green Hills who wants to move to San Francisco so he can get to save somebody’s life and who, dubbed the Do-Nut Lord, Sonic has been secretly stalking (along with Tom’s veterinarian wife, an underused Tika Sumpter) in order to feel part of a surrogate family. The second is, of course, the pursuit of the hero by the crazy megalomaniac bad guy, here in the form of cyber-genius Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey in, for once, enjoyably vintage over the top form with black coat and waxed panto villain moustache) and his drones, sent in by the military to capture the alien source.
All of which, after Tom pops Sonic with a tranquilizer dart that causes his bag of transporter rings to fall though a portal, means they have to head for San Francisco and recover them, Robotnik on their tail, bonding while checking off Sonic’s bucket list, which includes starting a bar fight with a bunch of bikers.
Lighthearted and hugely enjoyable, it romps along with some pretty decent visual effects and a constant stream of rapid fire quips from Sonic along with amusing in-jokes like him watching Speed on TV and reading Flash comics, as well as a message about the need for human contact. With a coda that promises a sequel that seems likely (and welcomingly) to happen, this may not be supersonic but it’s infinitely more fun than anyone could possibly have imagined. 99 mins (In cinemas + Amazon Prime and other streaming platforms)
Trolls World Tour (U)
The sequel to the surprisingly fun 2016 hit, this brings back Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake as Queen Poppy and her best friend Branch who saved the Pop trolls world in the first film and now find themselves having to do it again. Except this time, it’s not just Pop world.
As Poppy’s dad reveals, they’re not the only trolls. In fact, there were once six tribes, all of whom had a different type of music, pop, country, techno, funk, classical and rock (with apparently sub-tribes involving yodelling and K-pop trolls) who lived together until they began to argue about which music was better, leading to them all being split up and confined to their own lands, each with the string embodying their music from the universal guitar, their new generations unaware of the others’ existence.
But now, however, Queen Barb by Rachel Bloom from the Rock trolls is determined to reunite them all under one music – Hard Rock! But to do this, she needs to eliminate all other musical forms, starting with an invasion of the Techno trolls’ underwater rave party.
What follows is a sort of sugar rush on steroids with explosions of swirling and pulsating colour, psychedelic musical sequences and a virtual non-stop jukebox of familiar songs, from Girls Just Want To Have Fun to The Scorpions’ Rock You Like a Hurricane and Daft Punk’s One More Time. Also back on board among the voice cast is James Corden as Biggie with his pet worm Mr. Dinkles, Gwen Stefani as DJ Suki and Ron Funches as Cooper, the pink, green-capped giraffe-like troll who discovers just why he’s always felt a bit different to the other Pop trolls, while joining them are Kelly Clarkson as the Country trolls leader Delta Dawn (a joke country fans will get), Sam Rockwell as Country troll named Hickory, Jamie Dornan as a Smooth Jazz troll, called what else but Chas, George Clinton and Mary J. Blige as King Quincy and Queen Essence from the Funk trolls, Kenan Thompson as Tiny Diamond, the newborn hip-hop son of glittery Guy, and, inevitably, Ozzy Osbourne as Thrash, one of the Rock trolls.
Naturally, amid all of this there’s a message about diversity, acceptance and inclusion being important (here, through music) if we want to live together as well as finding your inner happiness. Grown-ups might find it a bit of a headache to watch, but, in these days of gloom and isolation, realising that music can bring us all together has to be worth a watch. 90 mins (In cinemas and Amazon Prime and other on demand services)
Not all 12A films are appropriate for younger children. Let’s Go With The Children offers a guide to what’s suitable for family viewing.